I attended the funeral with two of my older siblings who had made a three-hour trip for the Mass. We could only listen as the stories unfolded because none of us had known Sandy well. I remember meeting him once, nearly 20 years ago. He was my mother’s first cousin and moved away from our Cape Breton community when he was just a boy. His parents brought the family to the Halifax area, presumably pursuing a better life. On the occasion of our meeting, my mother was visiting my home and we made the 50-km jaunt in to see her cousin. They had kept in contact by letter and very sporadic visits. But Sandy was genuinely happy to see us, took us into his house that he shared at that time with a daughter, her husband and children and regaled us with stories of the old times and questions about other cousins and relatives who still lived in Cape Breton and beyond.
The thing that struck me about him then, the simple thing that was reinforced by the post-funer-al banter, was that Sandy was a man for whom tradition played an integral and irreplaceable role. He wanted to know all about the people he was linked to by familial and geographic relations. One of his daughters told us at the reception that in his last days in hospital Sandy often reverted to his first language, Gaelic, only to change back quickly to English when reminded that the hospital staff and few others could under-stand what he was trying to say.